National Basketball Association

Utah Jazz disrespected at NBA All-Star Draft, but they could have last laugh

March 5

Thursday's NBA All-Star Draft was supposed to be an event showing respect for the league's elite players.

And that was the case for almost everybody.

Everybody except the Utah Jazz, that is.

The Jazz are one of six teams with multiple players selected to this year's All-Star Game, along with the Brooklyn Nets, Phoenix Suns, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers.

But their All-Star duo of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were the last two players picked in the draft, with Gobert technically assigned to Team LeBron because he was the last player available.

TNT analyst Charles Barkley deemed the situation a snub, calling it "Jazz Slander."

LeBron James insisted that he intended no disrespect to the Jazz pair. But he didn't make matters any better with his explanation for why Mitchell and Gobert were selected last.

"There is no slander to the Utah Jazz, but you guys got to understand, just like in video games growing up, we never played with Utah. Even with as great as Karl Malone and John Stockton was, we never would pick those guys in video games. Never."

Mitchell and Gobert are each making a second consecutive All-Star Game appearance, and they have been the cornerstones of a Jazz team that has made the playoffs the past three seasons.

With that track record, they might not need validation from their peers at the All-Star Game. They might have all the affirmation they need from their play on the court this season.

The Jazz hold the best record in the NBA going into the All-Star break, standing 27-9 with wins over both the Lakers and Clippers. The Jazz also lead the NBA in point differential, winning games by an average of 8.8 points.

Utah's dominant first half has inspired the belief that this squad might be the team to beat in the Western Conference, with Stephen A. Smith a major advocate. He broke down why the West will go through Utah on ESPN's "First Take."

"They're a top-five defensive team, they are a top-five offensive team, they are the leading 3-point-shooting team in the entire NBA. They share the basketball. They trust one another. ... The Utah Jazz give you every impression that you are going to have to deal with them. The road to the Finals is going to have to go through Utah. It's going to have to go through Salt Lake City. It's not going through Los Angeles unless Anthony Davis finds a way to get 100 percent healthy."

In addition to Mitchell and Gobert, the Jazz feature a stout supporting cast. Seven of their regular rotation players shoot at least 37% from 3-point range, and four players besides Mitchell and Gobert are averaging double-digit scoring, notably Sixth Man of the Year front-runner Jordan Clarkson, who is averaging a career-high 17.9 points per game.

Wednesday's All-Star Draft showed that despite all of this, the Jazz are still overlooked.

If the first half of the season is any indication, they might capture everyone's attention and demand some respect this spring — and possibly summer.

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